5 Instructional Design Best Practices To Create Successful Remote Learning

Making A Remote Connection: 5 Instructional Design Best Practices
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Summary: Following Instructional Design best practices in creating eLearning and online training courses is vital for effective and meaningful instruction.

Making A Remote Connection: 5 Instructional Design Best Practices

For training and eLearning to truly make an impact, Instructional Designers have to design and develop cohesive, highly-effective eLearning experiences using the latest technologies, creative design and learner-centered teaching strategies.

By following Instructional Design best practices and delivering new information in a way that’s meaningful and engaging, a well-designed course will help its participants quickly master new skills and understand how to apply new knowledge to their roles and environment.

An Instructional Designer has many eLearning instructional strategies, styles, methods, and ideologies to draw from. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, there are a handful of best practices to make yourself and your expertise more accessible.

1. Establish Your Presence

For eLearning students, employees, customers, and other participants in remote training, instructors often seem like mythical figures—shrouded in mystery and lurking behind the screen. And that can be problematic.

"For those individuals who are pursuing a degree or certificate in a wholly online environment, the faculty member becomes the connection to that institution", says Larry Ragan [1], director of Instructional Design and Development for Penn State’s World Campus. "So, for a student, it’s imperative to get to know the faculty member at some level".

To foster familiarity, rapport, and trust, begin by putting a face to your name. Introduce yourself to your learners by making a short welcome video. What’s your background? What are your goals for the class or training session? Show participants that their instructor is just another human being who wants to help them succeed.

2. Be Available

It’s also important to make yourself available for questions, discussions, and feedback. If your eLearning platform hosts forums and message boards, encourage participants to use those resources, and participate in those discussions yourself. If you see a recurring question or issue creating confusion, step in and provide clarity.

It’s also essential to offer timely feedback and responses. eLearning can be an isolating experience, so demonstrating your availability will telegraph to your participants that you’re not only available but also committed. You genuinely care about their success. You’re there for them.

3. Promote Active Learning

eLearning is often self-paced and self-directed, which makes active learning even more critical for engaging with students, keeping them focused and improving motivation. According to the professor of the University of Illinois, Neal Cohen, when active learning is implemented, "Whole swaths of the brain not only turn on but also get functionally connected when you’re actively exploring the world".

Active learning also addresses different learning needs and cultivates a strong sense of community. Consider methods like these:

  • Incorporate interactivity into your courses, such as drag-and-drop activities, simulations, and exercises.
  • Connect lessons to the real world to make the material relevant to the participants.
  • Facilitate collaboration. For instance, if there isn’t much activity on the forums or message boards, generate a discussion prompt or invite participants to share their notes and ideas.

4. Consolidate Content

Two side effects of our interconnected world are limited attention and diminished comprehension. According to a study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, people are more likely to begin multitasking with their other devices after 15 minutes. To avoid this, keep the content direct and concise, and aim for under 15 minutes per video or presentation.

Attention can also suffer when met with too much data in too short a span. This is called "data fatigue", and it can affect even the most diligent learners. To avoid it, build break times into lectures and presentations, and adopt a "chunking strategy". Chunking is the technique of dividing information into smaller “chunks” based on similar patterns, making it easier to digest.

5. Design Good Questions

While it’s technically part of active learning, designing the right questions is important enough to deserve its section. When you strip away the technology, the games, the chalkboards, and the grades, that’s what you’re left with. Questions. Imagination. Curiosity.

Again, telling participants the answers is never as effective as leading them to the solutions, and well-designed questions make such a journey possible.

"Are your questions good questions?", asks learning and performance consultant and researcher, Will Thalheimer. "Do they ask people to make decisions set in realistic scenarios? Do they provide plausible answer choices (even for incorrect choices)? Are they focused on high-priority information?". Good questions go beyond multiple choice.

Here are some tenets for designing good questions:

  • Design questions that are open-ended and result in various answers to stimulate interest and reveal how participants think. This can often be accomplished by just asking "why".
    • Example: In an employee recruitment training program, you might ask your participants, "An HR specialist must consider each job’s value to the organization when determining compensation. What is this type of job evaluation called?".
    • To get more out of that question, follow it by asking "why?"—"Why is this a good method for determining compensation? Why is it important to the company? Why is it effective?".
  • Design questions that challenge viewpoints.
    • Example: In a talent management training program, you might ask your participants, "What can a company do to attract top talent?".
    • To get more out of that question, follow it by asking something like, "What are the pros and cons of your suggestions?".
  • Design questions that encourage problem-solving.
    • Example: In a Human Resources management training program, you might ask your participants to identify employment discrimination legislation.
    • To get more out of that question, follow it by asking, "What would you do if an employee came to you and said they were being discriminated against due to their race?".

Weave Instructional Design Best Practices Into Your Training

Online training and eLearning open the doors of education to the world and make it easier than ever to ensure the success of your employees. Remember that remote training and instruction are not the same as face-to-face teaching, and should not be approached as if they were. Merely digitizing the employee handbook, for example, misses the point. Embracing the full potential of remote learning means following Instructional Design best practices that recognize the unique challenges and opportunities.

The best Instructional Design takes steps to bridge potential interpersonal gaps of remote learning and establish rapport with students and employees. Even more so, it takes advantage of cutting-edge tools and the latest thinking in instructional design to facilitate active learning and participant engagement, delivering content and assessment in a relevant way that stimulates critical thinking and creativity.

To learn how software companies can use online learning to augment existing customer training efforts check out the Building Effective Customer Education Programs eBook. Whether used alone or in conjunction with other training methods, online customer education can help you create engaged, well-trained users who meet their product goals. It provides more effective, personalized education for your users by letting them work at their own pace, from any device, anywhere in the world.



  1. Creating a Sense of Instructor Presence in the Online Classroom
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